Inside the writer's room: The Dan Marino Story

As seen on Culture Designers.

What about if we get Dan Marino to play Never Have I Ever? That would be ridiculous…

It's 5 PM on a Thursday. All of our ideas have been scrapped because of budgeting, time limitations and all the other constraints you can imagine. In the 11th hour we cannot rely on fancy tech solutions or gimmicks. We have to dig deep to the basics: good writing.

A hot meal and two hours later, we have it. A road trip duo between Dan Marino and Yamil Piedra, our comedian. We revert back to a more primal form of creativity: what would be really funny? Two bros hanging out with the open road.

A CREATIVE TEAM'S LAIR

The writer’s room is no different than a circle of your friends on a Friday night. One of you latches onto a fictitious scenario, someone else jumps in with an even funnier place to take that story… and before you know it, it’s been an hour of everyone contributing the next scene. That’s what it is, except we are writing it all down.

Our finished product is an Ali G styled bro-trip between one of the nation’s most famous Hall of Famers and a local comedian with no inhibitions and perfect timing.

This will literally never fly, but we’re committing to it anyways. Because why not.

I leave for the weekend feeling at peace we’ve done our best. The ideas are solid, but what are the chances Dan Marino will go for it? Slim to none.

Staring at a tiki hut in paradise, a text comes in. We’re a go. Holy shit. Dan Marino is in.

I won't even lie to you, there’s no experience more gratifying than watching an entire production come together based on your team’s script. Sitting in a circle reading through what jokes work and which fall flat is like getting to eat an entire cake without any of the calories.

Despite having the green light conceptually, we're still nervous. Does Marino really know what he agreed to? Did he read correctly? Will he actually be up to the task of holding emojis in response to randomly selected words and concepts? Internet videos of Marino freaking out during past shoots swirl through the writer’s room.

You guys, take out any mention of the Super Bowl or John Elway.

And so we crafted a script that was still true to the humor with just enough land mines to make it juicy.

D-DAY

The day of the shoot we all sit in a circle with Marino and his people. Fifteen bodies at a table anxiously awaiting for what this pre-pro will bring. It's the moment we've been waiting for: Marino reads the final script. With his reading glasses in place, he discerningly goes through it pausing to laugh ever so often. This is good. This is really good.

“Let’s have some fun,” he smiles. A wave of relief immediately liberates my shoulders from the hunchback-like tension they’ve been holding since our initial ideas were thrown out.

When someone has the fate of your creation in their hands, you develop a stockholm syndrome of sorts. It makes no sense and it's beyond your control. So, I just can't help but melt when Dan Marino smiles at us. When he does, his face softens and you only see his blue eyes. There are forces beyond me at play here. 

He’s got that quality that makes you feel like he’s known you for years, like you’re the only person in the room. It’s a phenomenon that some people either have or don’t. He's the random person who waves at you and makes you doubt for a moment if he's confused. The warmth too familiar to attribute to politeness, so you respond in an awkward albeit courteous way.

The pre-pro is not the end of our fear though. At the bottom of every take we study Marino’s face to make sure everything is okay. Any frustrating notes in his frown lines send us into a panic. Let’s just scrap this skit comes up a few times.

IN THE END, IT COMES DOWN TO A PHONE CALL

The absolute culmination of our effort to make the jokes authentic yet gloss over the sore spots he’s already been asked a million times. In the bro-mobile, our sidekick makes a call to his brother-in-law. It's the one part of the production not under our control. We want the phone call to be authentic and any preparation will lose the feeling of realness.

“If you could ask Dan Marino one question, what would it be? You have 5 seconds.” The entire production is quiet as the poor dude flails.

“Uhh.. well… man, you’re really putting me on the spot here.”

“You gotta hurry up, man!”

“That’s not a question!” Marino chimes in.

“All right all right... Dan, you are the best quarterback of all time."

Don't you say it.

"How does it feel not to have ever won a Super Bowl?”

You bastard.

Dan’s face scrunches up. My breathing stops. 

Does he think we set him up? Is he going to bang the car with his fists? His huge, football player fists?!

“Hang up on him.” He says and his co-host nervously laughs. “No, no, no. It’s okay,” he continues. “Because you set it up so nicely, I’ll answer.”

His response is literally white noise to me. I walk around in a haze pacing from the production crew to coffee then back to our team. After dodging such a bullet, I don't want to chance anything else. I sit bemused.

Somehow it ends and we've done it. Our ideas half sprung from delirium and hilarity. They’ll never let us do this with Marino quickly turned into Oh God, they're letting us do this.

At the end of the shoot, I pack my things as Dan Marino walks out. “Thank you,” he says as he pats my shoulder with that familiar friendliness.

“Thank you,” I smile back with the same familiarity. After all, he has been all I’ve focused on for the past week.

I'm never washing this sweater again. Did you see how he looked right into my eyes?!

A passerby asks, “Hey what do you do around here?”

“Who me? I’m just the writer.”